Friday, June 11, 2010

Jong-chan Yun's Sorum (2001)

Jong-chan Yun's Sorum (2001) is an affecting drama about two lovers, Sun-yeong (Jin-Young Jang) and Yong-hyun (Myeong-min Kim). Yong-hyun moves into a dilapidated apartment building on the outskirts of Seoul. He's a taxi driver who works the night shift. Sun-yeong lives down the hall from his apartment and works as the night clerk at the local 7-Eleven. Sun-yeong's husband is abusive towards her and takes her earnings to gamble and drink. Thirty-year-old Yong-hyun is flighty but one evening, Sun-yeong appears in the hallway covered in blood. Yong-hyun helps her that evening, and that evening's events are the catalyst for their subsequent intense relationship. Or maybe not.
A writer also shares the floor with Sun-yeong and Yong-hyun and whatever novel he is writing is based upon events which occurred in their apartment building. Yong-hyun's apartment, number 504, houses some dark secrets.

The background of Sorum plays on the idea of determinism in several forms: the relationship between the characters' past, present, and future; the idea of fate and destiny; and the idea that maybe a "curse" lingers where tragic events have once occurred and is influencing the present surroundings. This background is very much pervasive yet subdued. The foreground is dominated by a very intense and intimate portrayal of the relationship between Sun-yeoung and Yong-hyun.

Both Sun-yeong and Yong-hyun have mysterious pasts; and at least for one, this mysterious past is tragic. What do people talk about when they talk about love?
Yong-hyun takes Sun-yeong on a trip to an abandoned village early in their relationship where Yong-hyun likes to visit often when he's alone. Yong-hyun is initially depicted in Sorum as a little weird and a loner. He has a real fondness for spontaneously imitating Bruce Lee's animated facial expressions, fight poses, and battle cries. He also has a pet mouse of which he is quite fond. "What is so great about him," Yong-hyun tells Sun-yeong about the mouse, "is that I can leave him alone for a week and he survives." At the village, he attempts a high kick, Bruce Lee- style for Sun-yeong's entertainment. He slips, and she doesn't laugh. She walks over and tells him to stand still and ties his shoe laces. This act by Sun-yeong may be the catalyst for their subsequent intense relationship.

Jin-Young Jang as Sun-yeong gives a stellar performance. There is one scene in Sorum with Sun-yeong and her husband, really only included for viewer clarity, and while it's melodramatic, it's effective. While drunk, Sun-yeong's husband beats on her and takes her month's wages to gamble. The husband hints also with his dialogue that he feels justified with his actions because of an earlier event between the two. Jang, the actress, carries her performance as Sun-yeong, especially her emotion in the absence of dramatic scenes. In other words, the growth of her character is shown through how she lives in mundane action. As a night clerk in the 7-Eleven, she drops and breaks a bottle while stocking the freezer. How she reacts to this event or watching her walk home after work is where Sun-yeong's emotion lies. After she is beaten by her husband and her face is mangled, Sun-yeong goes to the roof on a starless night. For whatever reason, Yong-hyun walks the roof's stairs to encounter her. Director Yun shows no dialogue in the two's encounter. This act by by Yong-hyun may be the catalyst for their subsequent intense relationship.
So what do these two lovers talk about when they talk about love? While Yun likes to depict his two lovers in various scenarios (which speak louder than their dialogue), when Sun-yeong and Yong-hyun do speak, they talk about tragedy. In a moment of vulnerability, Yong-hyun shares with Sun-yeong perhaps his biggest secret and the one past event which has shaped him the most. As they begin to open up to each other over the course of their relationship, the secrets between the two become revealed. Sun-yeong has a very tragic secret, about which Yong-hyun questions her uncomfortably; and Yong-hyun admits to some very dark and sinister behavior. While the Korean setting and culture may be alien to outsiders, nearly every viewer who has ever lived in a metropolitan area can relate to a Sun-yeong or Yong-hyun. Jong-chan Yun in Sorum is presenting two characters, like the convenience store night clerk and taxi driver, who all metro dwellers have encountered. They are representative characters of the myriad people met in fleeting interactions yet often, like most people, have complex lives and experience-filled pasts. In other words, there is a concrete reason(s) why the pretty night clerk is sad and there is a concrete reason(s) why the kooky taxi driver is kind of weird.The final act of Jong-chan Yun's Sorum is its most affecting. It begins very unassuming as Yong-hyun asks Sun-yeong for a day trip, as the two both have the day off. It begins with their dinner and goes well into the night to end the film. The richly-filled background idea of determinism comes to the forefront of the film as the credits roll. Jong-chan Yun has directed few films since. Sadly, Jin-Young Jang died in 2009. Sorum is a quiet, intense, often violent, and poetic film.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You always select unique movies that are new to me.

Hans A. said...

Thank you, Alex. I try to write about films here that I don't often see written about elsewhere. My cinema tastes are often very different from the majority, and I love writing. Hence, the blog. In any case, your visits are always appreciated and also taking time to share your thoughts, Alex.